We describe a new technique by which single base changes in human genes can be conveniently detected. In this method the DNA fragment of interest is first amplified using the polymerase chain reaction with an oligonucleotide primer biotinylated at its 5'-end. The amplified 5'-biotinylated DNA is immobilized on an avidin matrix and rendered single-stranded. The variable nucleotide in the immobilized DNA is identified by a one-step primer extension reaction directed by a detection step primer, which anneals to the DNA immediately upstream of the site of variation. In this reaction a single labeled nucleoside triphosphate complementary to the nucleotide at the variable site is incorporated. The method is highly sensitive, allowing the use of nucleoside triphosphates labeled with radioisotopes of low specific activity (3H) as well as nonradioactive markers (digoxigenin). The procedure consists of few and simple operations and is thus applicable to the analysis of large numbers of samples. Here we applied it to the analysis of the three-allelic polymorphism of the human apolipoprotein E gene. We were able to correctly identify all possible combinations of the three apo E alleles.